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Person with diabetesBorn in Argentina in 1926.
Diagnosed Type 1 in Cheadle Hulme in 1931
Overview: Richard Fawkes` father worked as a railway engineer in Argentina and Richard was brought up in an expatriate British community. His father died during the war, and he returned to England in 1945 to work in the family firm. He shared a house with his mother and sister for many years, but has lived alone since 1980. He has sung in amateur musicals, renovated houses, including the one in which he now lives, and painted 1,600 paintings, most of which he has sold. He is currently recovering from a heart attack.
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(1) Tell me about your background
me about your background.
My father was a railway signal
engineer trained at Westinghouse in Chippenham. He lived in Worcester. He went out to the Argentine in 1912 on a thirty year contract,
but he came back for the war and did the ‘14-‘18 war, did four or five years
service there, and went back to the Argentine afterwards. My mother lived
in Cheshire, Cheadle Hulme at the time, and went out to marry him in 1924.
When were you born?
I was born 1926, so… my sister
nearly two years later.
In Argentina, yes, so
we‘re both Argentines by birth, but both parents being thoroughly English.
What kind of life did your parents
have in Argentina?
Well, they had a very good life,
really, ‘cause there were about sixty thousand British there at the time,
and English schools and theatres and, you know, tennis clubs, swimming clubs,
Would they have had any Argentinian
No, we didn‘t mixed at that time.
If we went to the theatre you usually saw the English production. No, we
didn‘t sort of integrate in that way. They were mostly sort of working class
- you know, Argentine maid and that sort of thing, and shopkeepers. My mother‘s
Spanish was very poor, but she got by for shopping and that sort of thing.
And how did you come to be diagnosed with diabetes?
Well, I don‘t really know, but
I‘m told that I‘d lost a lot of weight and passing a lot of water - sort of
classic signs of diabetes. But I don‘t know whether anything was done in
the Argentine, but my father had six months leave every five years, and I
was diagnosed in England in 1931.
Went back shortly after that, and, of course, on diet and insulin ever since.
Now, you were presumably treated
first of all in England. Do you know if that was in a hospital?
Yes, Birmingham Children‘s Hospital,
I think, as far as I… I don‘t remember that. On the next leave, in 1936,
I was in Stockport Infirmary for treatment, but I wasn‘t put in a children‘s
ward then - I was in the men‘s, you know, in case they started giving me sweets
And you went back to Argentina
and presumably had most of your treatment there. Can you remember what sort
of diet you were put on?
I can‘t remember very clearly,
but I think it was closely watched at that time - you know, most of the stuff
weighed, you know, quite carefully: a couple of ounces, four ounces, that
sort of thing. But the diet there was, you know, good - plenty of meat and
vegetables, and no shortage of anything. So, it was a good natural diet,
anyway, I think, but I seem to remember boiled cabbage in England - boiled to death! I think my father
did most of the working out of the diet. His writing‘s in the RD Lawrence
books, both of 1931, and sort of workings out, weight and, you know, measurements.
I remember the scales, which, you know, the bread used to be weighed, potatoes,
bananas - two ounces of banana or four ounces of apple or two ounces of bread,
and you had to make choices in between up to a certain amount.
Were you taught to do your own
injections from the start?
I don‘t remember when I actually
started with injections. Fairly young, I think - probably nine or ten.
And what about testing your sugar
Well, that was done very erratically.
It wasn‘t very good in those days with the urine testing. I was told I had
a high threshold so that the sugar didn‘t appear in the urine till it was
very high, but it was a bit of a fiddle. You had to… so many drops of urine
and so many drops of water and so many drops of Fehling mixture, all boiled
up in a test-tube, and then the colour of that, either from blue, which was
good, to deep yellowy-orange, which was not very good, but it was purely a
case of comparing colours.
Now, the RD Lawrence book and leaflets you‘ve got date from 1931, so you were
probably given those in England,
but can you remember what medical supervision you got when you got back to
I can‘t actually remember. The
Argentine doctor - I don‘t seem to record him mentioning diet at all. I think
he thought things were going on all right as they were. But what impressed
me, he had an x-ray cabinet in his surgery, and that was always a big thing.
But I can‘t remember him sort of specifying diet at all. He must have been
satisfied with what I was doing. I went to see Dr Cárrega Casaffousth, you
know, for many years.
Where was that?
That was in Buenos Aires. It was a private visit, and I always
remember the little table in the hall where they used to give him the money,
and it was locked away in this tiny drawer in this table. But it must have
been quite a struggle, at the time, because my father‘s salary wasn‘t enormous,
and it was all private funding.
Can you remember where you got
the insulin from?
I can remember the chemists where
we used to buy it, yes. And it was always a beef insulin. I don‘t think
any of the others - or beef or pork - the others weren‘t available, and I
think they‘re still not available in the Argentine.
What kind of attitude did the
doctor have to your diabetes?
Well, I don‘t remember, particularly.
I think general advice on, you know, levels of insulin, exercise, and to vary
the insulin according to the exercise that I had taken or likely to take;
but I didn‘t take that much exercise. At school I was always excused sports
because I was diabetic, which is probably a wrong attitude, but... I wasn‘t
very keen on sport anyway, so it didn‘t bother me. I didn‘t play cricket
or football, but I used to swim quite a lot.
So, give me some example of what
the doctor might have said about varying your insulin according to your exercise.
Well, he always said not to vary
it too much - two units at a time, either up or down, and always had sugar
on me to control a hypo. Used to carry little lumps of sugar in a tissue
paper, which was always coming apart and becoming all gritty in my pocket,
whereas nowadays I have peppermint creams, which are very useful.
So, right from the start you
were adjusting your insulin according to your activity. Would you have adjusted
it according to what food you were going to eat?
Not before a meal, I don‘t think.
But if you went out for a dinner or something like that, which you didn‘t
know what you were… get for eating, might adjust a next dosage, or even have
an extra injection if you‘d overdone it a bit too much.
And the doctor was perfectly
happy with your doing that?
Oh yes, recommended to do it
in the Lawrence book.
How were you supposed to know
how much to adjust your insulin?
Well, not more than two units
up or down, and then, I suppose, see how the blood sugar was going. But,
as I say, in those days it was very hit or miss, especially for me, because
they said I had this high threshold in the urine.
Did you have good control?
I think so, yes. Didn‘t stop
me doing anything particular. Holidays - used to go up into the Cordoba hills,
and, you know, an active outdoor holiday, and dam up a little stream there
to make a swimming pool, and long walk to the station to collect the
groceries or whatever: down the hill, along the railway line, and probably
two or three miles at least. And, of course, it was very primitive. Also,
no electricity, the water supplies were brought up by your local, I think,
man. Used to order a big urn on the patio, used to dip in there with a cup
- you know, great hollow sounds. Toilet round the back; no flush toilet or
anything. But we used to enjoy them. We used to go year after year. Quite
a social occasion as well. There was another English family in another cottage
nearby, and the other people used to come up and stay with us for a week or
two. And we used to go up for… probably about six weeks we used to stay.
Because travel was very easy - with my father being on the railway, we used
to get passes for holidays and local passes for travelling to school, and…
How did people at school react
to your having diabetes?
I don‘t remember at all. I don‘t
think it ever... it was never a subject for discussion.
Do you think people knew?
Well, I never told anybody.
I mean, the authorities might know, and then the last school I was at I used
to have school dinners, until we moved nearby and I could come home for lunch.
But I don‘t think... well, I don‘t recall having special food or anything.
So how did you manage? Did you
weigh your school dinners?
No. No, just ate with the rest
of them - probably about twenty of us; that was at St Alban‘s College. That
was very different from the last time I went in ‘96. I went back and had
lunch with the headmaster.
Yes, we went in 1996 and had lunch with the headmaster in a private, you know,
part of the house, which I‘d never seen before. He showed me round the school.
He was a little boy there when I was there - I‘ve got a photograph of him
on the front row. So, it‘s fifty one years since I‘d last been there.
Tell me about leaving school.
Well, I wasn‘t going to leave
school after the Cambridge school
certificate examination, but I carried on the year following that until my
father died, and then it was a case of, you know, all hands to the pump and
going out and getting a job. So, I had six months at Pitmans learning typing,
and then a couple of years at Price Waterhouse in the legal department, which
was very boring, but I put up with it ‘cause I knew I was coming to England
What was Argentina like during
the Second World War?
Well, you wouldn‘t know there
was a war on, really. There were no shortages to speak of - plenty of meat
and vegetables. Sugar was rationed to one kilo per family per day, which
was quite a lot. And there were all sorts there. It wasn‘t a case of… you
know, the Germans, Italians - used to see them reading their own newspapers.
But the Graf Spey business was quite an exciting time, and we saw the British
cruisers in dock when they came into BA afterwards. You could walk freely
along the docks; there was no hampering or anything then.
And how did you come to return
Well, my father was on contract,
so we were always going to return to England when he‘d finished, but it was extended
because of the war, and there were no passages there - very difficult to get.
But they repatriated my mother, my sister and myself in August ‘45.
And where did you go to?
Went first to my grandparents‘
in Cheadle Hulme. Stayed with them until we bought a house fairly locally,
and then started a history of doing up houses, and buying wrecks and putting
And what was your paid work?
I joined the family firm. Started
at the bottom, really, on the machines, the extrusion machines and clip machines
and tool room, inspection and dispatch; a bit of everything.
What was the family business?
We made electrical cable clips
and things for fastening wires and cables, and special items designed by my
uncle, you know, for specific customers. But primarily the cable clips were
for the aircraft industry, you know, Avros and the De Havilland and people
like that, during the war. And we carried on making them afterwards from
cellulose acetate, then it became nylon mould - injection moulding, and gradually
changed over the years.
And what was England like when
you came back in August 1945?
Bit grim. The place was shabby,
lot of people on bicycles, which rather took us aback. The shabbiness, really,
and the shortage of food, and scrounging around for little titbits and things;
getting eggs from the country and that sort of thing. But as a diabetic,
you know, it was quite generous really: extra meat and eggs and fat, as far
as I can remember.
And how did you find your medical
treatment in England compared
with the treatment of diabetes in Argentina?
Well, I carried on my own way,
actually. I used to go to a local doctor, but we didn‘t agree on the treatment,
and the diabetic club, I felt, was a waste of time. You know, I didn‘t change
the way I‘d been trained.
What was the nature of your disagreement
with your local GP?
Well, not altering the insulin
dosage according to conditions, and the treatment of illness, you know, to
carry on with insulin even if you weren‘t eating - which to me was the right
way, but I‘d been brought up that way, so I didn‘t know any different. Far
too regimented, really. The Argentines were more liberal with food and
they used to suggest food intake - what to eat and what not to eat - for different
conditions, which they never did in England.
Food seemed to matter. Didn‘t specify light diet or anything like that.
You mean food didn‘t matter to
No, food didn‘t matter to English
doctors, really. They didn’t seem to have a knowledge of it. Even now, in
hospital, you ask for a light diet - "well, what do you mean by that?".
You know, sort of like stewed apple and rice pudding, things like that, non-greasy,
non… you know, not highly flavoured or anything.
So, Argentinean doctors appeared
to know more about food and the effects of food?
They seemed to know more about
it and recommend what to eat and what not to eat, what was indigestible and...
And what about this adjusting
of your diet to conditions. Can you give examples of what you would do and
what your GP in England would do?
Well, the GP in England would set
the dosage and that was it, you know, no matter what. If I knew I was going
to cut the grass for two or three hours in the morning, I would reduce the
insulin and keep plenty of sweet stuff around in case I went hypo, but they
didn‘t seem to bother with that.
Did you go hypo very much?
Well, quite often, I think, but
only slightly; I didn‘t have to be attended to by anybody. I mean, I knew…
my mother seemed to know when I was going; she could tell. I could tell eventually,
too, but as the years went by, it didn‘t... it wasn‘t as clear cut as it used
to be. But I‘ve always dealt with it myself though, even when my mother was,
you know, alive until 1980. You know, if I woke up in the night, I would
have sweet stuff handy in the drawer.
And did you have any contact with hospitals in England
in the 1940s?
Well, clinic at Stockport, but I didn‘t feel I was gaining very much. I seemed to be
going over ground, which I already knew. And the diabetic club, I just didn‘t
like at all. I mean, you seemed to be surrounded with people with moans and
groans, and I never discussed diabetes at all with anybody. For a long time,
I never mentioned it on holiday; just coped on my own.
If you didn‘t mention to people
that you‘d got diabetes, how did you cope if you went out for a meal, say,
at their house?
Well, I might do in that case,
but not as a general thing. But if I went out to a house, I was sort of keen
to ask, you know, what time was the meal and that sort of thing. And you
were ready to have an injection supposedly half an hour before the meal, which
they don‘t seem to bother with here. They have the injection - well, in hospital
visits - they have the injection at a certain time. Whether it coincides
with the meal or not, it doesn‘t matter, and even if the blood sugars were
high. I‘m speaking of quite recent years, though.
So, how many injections did you
have from the time you were diagnosed?
Well, always two a day, sometimes
three, sometimes four a day. Even now I have extra injections or adjusted
according to the blood sugar.
And how did the GP and the hospital
react to you having so many injections?
I don‘t remember ever discussing
it with them. Just went my own way, really - sort of in one ear and out the
other! I felt I was doing all right anyway.
Were you ever completely unconscious
with a hypo?
Not that I know of, no. Even
when my mother was here up till 1980, I never contacted her at night or anything
if I did wake up. And, of course, she was sort of fairly regular with meals,
and, you know - "better have a bit of sugar or something, the meal will
be another half hour yet".
How long did you go on weighing
Oh, probably till I was about
ten, maybe, but I don‘t recall much after that. I certainly didn‘t weigh
it when I came to England in ‘36, so
I was off it by then.
Did your diabetes affect your choice of career in any way?
I don‘t think so, really. I
mean, I‘d always been interested in architecture and house design and that
sort of thing, but being in the Argentine I was a long way from, you know,
Liverpool, where my father was enquiring about courses,
and, of course, when he died, it was a case of going straight out to work
there. And I knew I‘d got the family business in England
to come to, when I finally did get to England, and went straight into there.
And how was that kind of work
suited to somebody with diabetes?
Well, it‘s quite good really,
‘cause it was regular and, you know, a daily routine. No great problems;
didn‘t have to travel.
Have you done much travelling
during your life?
Not business-wise - no, but for
holidays - yes. One or two European holidays every year, perhaps a week or
a fortnight, and visits to a cousin in Spain,
and big trips to the Argentine and South
Africa, which were very special. But travelling didn‘t
affect the diabetes particularly. Soon recover after the flights. Those are
a bit higgledy-piggledy, you might say. We used to subdivide the injections,
then, to more or less cope with each meal as it came along. And I had all
my supplies with me - two lots for hand luggage and main luggage, and enough
to carry on for the whole holiday from each supply.
You were in England for three
years before the creation of the National Health Service in 1948. Can you
remember what you had to pay for before the creation of the National Health
I can‘t actually remember that.
I suppose my mother paid it - it didn‘t come out of my meagre, what was, two
pounds ten a week. I suppose she paid for it, but I don‘t remember it being
a problem or anything.
How much contact did you have with members of the medical profession over
I don‘t seem to remember anything
very much. I think the odd diabetic clinic, or weights and measurements and
blood sugars and what not, but not till I moved to Bollington and went regularly
to the clinic there with, you know, blood pressure and what not coming on.
What year did you move to Bollington?
So, all through the fifties and
sixties, you really had very little contact with medics?
No, very little contact, I think.
Went my own sweet way!
Were you fit?
Well, I think so. Used to do
all the gardening and big house renovation jobs, and, you know, heaving boulders
around the place and digging and raking. Each house we bought has wanted
work doing on it, so, you know, building garages and terraces. Oh, did quite
a lot of scooter riding - belonged to a scooter club. Used to go out every
weekend: half day Sunday and the following week, or full day Sunday, so.
I seemed to fit that in also with a full-time job, and looked after the car,
you know, polished and gleaming every week. I don‘t know how I did it.
And you‘ve also shown me some
musical programmes. Tell me about that.
Oh, I‘ve always… joined in 1945
- a musical society. We‘d done, you know, G&S, and whole lot of musicals
with quite a number of societies. Most of them only one a year, so I joined
another one so I could get in two a year, but that finally faded a bit; it‘s
only one a year.
And what was your role?
Oh, mostly chorus, a bit of dancing,
odd small speaking parts or singing parts, until I finally ended up with my
biggest role yet - the Giuseppe in the Gondoliers in Bollington. I was asked
if I would put in for that part and, you know, got it. But I had singing
lessons all my life, so it did help to projection and diction, more from a
hobby than anything.
But it requires quite a lot of
Yes. Well, the shows were quite
physical at times, especially the dancing roles. Used to go in for musical
festivals in Macclesfield and Alderley Edge, mostly Nelson, and then for one
or two classes, but that finally faded. People always said diabetics couldn‘t
sing. My mother was told that, but I think proved them wrong, really.
Has diabetes ever stopped you doing anything you wanted to do?
I don‘t think it has, really,
but I‘ve always had to consider it, whatever I did. You know, concerts or
anything like that, that I had meals at the right time and didn‘t miss injections
or anything like that. But I don‘t think it actually stopped me; just had
to be more prepared. I‘ve travelled, you know, with the choir - long weekends,
a couple of trips to Ireland
with the choir - no problems. But I‘m always self sufficient. You know,
got everything with me that I needed, all the medications and sweet stuff
in case of hypos. I don‘t think anybody would have known.
Did you ever resent having to
be so well organised?
Not really, no. It didn‘t bother
me particularly. It‘s always something I‘ve known, had to take notice of.
But with choir trips - if it looked a bit complicated or it could go wrong,
I didn‘t go on those. They went on one to Europe, and
it was constant problems: bus broke down and, you know, spent a night in the
bus at the dockside and that sort of thing. So, I could see problems looming
and didn‘t go on that trip. But otherwise, I organise the meals… competed
at Llangollen Eisteddfod, oh, what, five or six years with the choir. That
was a lovely day out actually; very interesting. We did quite well in the
competition. There were five choirs entering the first time and only two
could go forward, and ours was one of them - the Bollington Festival Choir
- so we were quite pleased about that. But we didn‘t actually win at the
You mentioned that after you
moved to Bollington in 1969, you had more contact with the medical profession.
Why was that?
Well, I think the clinic was
very good, very friendly, and I think it was more necessary to watch the blood
sugars then, and, you know, blood pressure and all the other, you know, thyroid
and cholesterol, what not. And I was starting to have difficulty with the
grass mowing - you know, getting an ache in the shoulder. And I think 1972
was diagnosed with angina, but no actual pain, just breathless and had to
sit down a bit and carried on again afterwards. It‘s funny - angina without
pain; I can‘t understand it, but… Even a heart attack and the stroke, there
was no pain whatsoever.
Was the diabetic clinic you attended at your GP‘s?
Yes. I think it was fairly new
at the time, and, you know, it was much easier for me to attend to the local
doctor‘s than go to hospital, waiting around in clinics and, you know, seeing
different people each time; very frustrating. But they seem to have very
good records now at Bollington; everything‘s down on computer. And they‘ve
been very attentive, I must say. And one of the doctors taking the clinic
is also my GP, so I feel that he knows my case thoroughly.
Is that important to you?
Well, I feel so. I mean, I know
it‘s written down, but there are sort of other things, which… you know, they
don‘t know about my dislike of taking any medication. I don‘t want to get
involved in pill taking and side effects. I always read the leaflets thoroughly
before I take them - sometimes don‘t take them at all, which is very naughty,
but still. I‘ve had one or two bad episodes with pills, and recently I was...
Did you manage to do much after
you got angina?
Oh, yes. It didn‘t affect my
working particularly, only sort of continuous grass mowing and up and down
slopes. But did a lot of stone heaving and stone laying, flag laying, altering
beds, pruning. And inside the house - for the first year we travelled up
daily from Bramhall to start pointing the... taking the plaster off the walls,
and we pointed them all - my sister and I - inside; it was quite a job.
Moving on, then, to the eighties.
How was your health in the eighties?
I‘ve not mentioned houses at
all in all this - I‘ve missed all that out!
Tell me now.
Well, from the first house we
bought in England
in ‘45 - my aunt died in the Argentine, left two little girls. The father
brought them to England, they came to live with us, so we bought
another bigger house to share until they‘d finished their school. Then, when
they‘d finished school, father took them back to - he got a job in London - took them back there, so we moved to a smaller house. I don‘t
remember the dates now. Then, from a small house, my mother came into a bit
of money from her grandfather, we moved again, ‘cause it was a semidetached
house, and I didn‘t like practising when I was attached to a room next door
where they could hear me. So, we bought a detached house with a lot of garden
again; double plot. We stayed there until the painting was taking off. My
sister had given up work - she was working at home doing woodwork and picture
framing. We wanted premises where I could show the paintings and she could
have a workshop and do framing for outside people, as well as furniture restoration.
So, we wanted a place, you know, with a big area, but not tall - flat sort
of building, so eventually bought Clarke Lane Farm, where I am now. And that
worked very well for quite a few years,
till my sister married in ‘79; rather late, but still! No more woodwork and
no more picture framing, but carried on having exhibitions here - suitable
premises and plenty of land for parking on.
And you could sing without any
Yes, that was quite important.
Yes, nice and detached. There‘s no building that can hear me at all. I mean,
from my own house, actually, I can‘t hear from the lounge to the dining room,
and the neighbours at the back can‘t hear. The lady next door is deaf anyway
- she can‘t hear, but the stone houses are very soundproof.
And how has your health been
in recent years? Tell me what complications you‘ve developed.
Prostrate troubles, heart deterioration
- I‘ve always had a heart murmur and they wanted to operate, but I didn‘t
think I was bad enough for that – and, you know, complications with diabetes.
The heart specialist didn‘t seem to know what connections there were between
the two and felt a bit dubious about it, so I‘ve not had it; I still haven‘t
had it. Various small… you know, tooth extractions and lump removals.
Have you had any problems with
Cataract removal in one of them.
The other one is going, but he said it wasn‘t bad enough to do yet, so… But
the eyes are very, very tired and sore. I don‘t know what it is. I think
it‘s one of the blood pressure drugs; just want to sleep all the time.
And what about your feet - have
you had any problems with those?
No, no problems with those.
Visits to the doctors became more frequent, and together with specialists
and GPs, one year I counted fifty five different visits, which become a bit
tiring after a while.
What kind of things?
Well, I‘ve got details here:
prostrate operation, operation on shoulder lump, bladder problems, heart problems,
angiogram, angioplasty - which didn‘t do any good at all, tooth extraction,
cataract removal. That was in ‘98.
And how many of these would you
connect with diabetes?
I don‘t know that I can connect
any of them with diabetes, really. Heart possibly, but, I mean, many people
get heart problems without diabetes. And the heart problems have never been
that bad - I don‘t think so; it‘s not stopped me doing anything.
And were all these visits on
the National Health Service?
No, most of them private visits.
I‘ve carried on with the insurance after leaving the office, luckily with
no conditions attached, so everything qualifies - even eye problems, which
could be attributed to diabetes, but I don‘t think so. He‘s told me that
there are no diabetic problems, except for a cataract, which
anyone can have.
And do you feel that you get
better treatment than you would on the National Health Service?
Well, it‘s the same people that
work privately, but you certainly get half an hour with a doctor and talk
things over properly, rather than… otherwise, you know, well, in the hospital
they come round in four or six at a time, you don‘t know which one‘s the doctor,
and they just talk amongst themselves. You feel very detached from the doctor,
and even when you go to see a certain doctor, it‘s quite often not the same
one that you‘ve seen before.
Have you had any spells in an
NHS hospital with NHS treatment?
Yes, well, after the heart attack,
I had a long spell in hospital. That was September ‘02. They said it was
a heart attack and a stroke, so
I don‘t really know; I don‘t think I had a stroke. But the treatment was
very good, I must say; very attentive. I was three and a half months in hospital,
and various… A few days at a time I‘ve had to go in with a twisted bowel,
which luckily they managed to sort out without operating, but I‘ve got to
take great care about it. Take two laxatives a day and make sure the bowels
Did you get much help in managing
your diabetes while you were in hospital after your heart attack?
Well, I can‘t say that I did
really, ‘cause completely opposite to my way of managing it. And high blood
sugars weren‘t regarded, and I couldn‘t get injections before the meals -
just when the medicine trolley came by, and usually injections were the last
items to be distributed. Had great rows with everybody, including dietitians.
What rows did you have with dietitians?
Well, I had a bout of sickness
and I was asking for light food, and they didn‘t seem to know what light food
was. And I said "oh, stewed apple". "Oh, that will make it
worse" was the reaction from one staff nurse. But, you know, things
that we used to have at home - rice pudding, junket, you know, anything… stewed
fruits. Nothing sort of tasty or fatty - you know, kept away from all that
sort of stuff. But they finally did improve the diet a bit. I think it was
my doing. Also no fresh fruits, you know, and then when they did bring fresh
fruit it was a banana, which is not much use for a stroke victim, you know.
Had to get help opening it up, or an orange, which is completely useless -
you can‘t cope with that with one hand. But generally speaking, no, they
were attentive, just overworked. And when people had to be fed as well, it
was a lot of work for them.
Did you get the impression that
doctors and nurses knew much about diabetes?
Well, I don‘t know. I saw the
diabetic nurse while I was in hospital. I said I was going to be alone when
I went home, and, you know, "oh, you can‘t do that", as if it was
completely impossible in my condition with one hand. Anyway, I am coping.
Got a special holder for the insulin bottles, and carry on as I normally do.
Can you talk me through a day
of coping since your stroke?
What a day of coping is? Struggle
to get up - feel very tired in a morning. But I do my blood test and injection
first thing, then wash, as far as I can, teeth, get dressed, as far as I can
- trousers are difficult to cope with with one hand, but I manage. Shoes
and socks are beyond me at the moment, but I have a carer come in in the mornings
who finishes me off with, you know, shoes and buttons, or any other little
jobs which... What I do find a job is Oxo cubes - I can‘t open them. They‘re
usually all squashed to bits by the time I‘ve got them open. Things like
that they can do for me.
Well, if they‘ve not come, I carry on to the kitchen and get the breakfast,
which is usually porridge and fruit - fruit salad – apple, banana, something
like that, and that‘s it, really. Take the pills, make the coffee, which
I have later on in the morning ‘cause I don‘t like it very hot, so I have
it sort of eleven-ish when it‘s gone cool or tepid.
How many pills do you take?
About six in the morning, at
the moment, another one in the evening, a couple of laxatives - Fybogel and
Lactoberal. And otherwise… you know, I feel very tired, actually, all the
time, and quite often I lie on the bed for half an hour, sometimes an hour
- recover. Walking seems to have got more difficult as time goes on - very
slow. And the house is not particularly comfortable for walking - a lot of
uneven floors and stone flags, and it‘s a long way from place to place. But
have the odd appointments: doctors, dentists, specialists; that sort of thing.
Bits of shopping, if somebody takes me out. I‘m hoping to get a car in the
near future. I‘ve passed the test at Wrightington; capable of coping with
anything about an hour and a half‘s driving in a converted car. I had to
sell my other one because it wasn‘t automatic. But, hope to fix a hoist in
the back that will lift a lightweight electric wheelchair into the rear, into
the boot, for use when I go out if there‘s a lot of walking, like a garden
centre or something like that. It‘s no use in the house because there are
too many steps. But trying to get this hoist is a bit of a job, ‘cause the
car I want is not particularly large, but I think there‘s room enough for
to be converted. But I‘m waiting for a demonstration of this hoist - lightweight
hoist; see how that works.
Talk me through the afternoons
Well, I get my own lunch. Usually
cold - salady type things: tomatoes, cheese, tuna, whatever‘s available, and
stewed fruit or fresh fruit, simple puddings, perhaps rice or, you know…
a light lunch, you might say. Afternoons - usually I don’t… different appointments,
but… people demonstrating things, or, you know, casual people – today, like,
the boiler‘s broken down for the central heating and he‘s been to see that.
Visits by the physio‘ twice a week; privately arranged. Interviewing people
for gardener, you know, jobs in the garden and what to do. Cleaner comes
once a week - she wants organising, unless my sister is here.
And how have you coped psychologically
with the limitations imposed by a stroke?
Not very well, I don‘t think.
Feel very angry about it – still. I mean, over two years since it happened.
Ready to boil over at the slightest thing; very irritated - you know, the
slowness of everything gets me down. Even opening up envelopes and things
like that, or writing out cheques - they‘ve all got to be clipped and held
in position while I do it, which is very irritating. I don‘t like the bed
I‘ve got - electric bed. I‘ve hated it ever since I got it. I think it‘s
a big mistake, but I don‘t want to throw it out before I‘m absolutely sure.
I don‘t like the softness and the squidginess of it. So… spent a lot of money
on it. And two
chairs, also, which are not very comfortable, but the feet do go up and the
back goes down. I thought I might be able to sleep in one, but they‘re not
comfortable. Social life: well, once a week – scrabble. A friend comes round
and we have quite competitive games; I enjoy that quite a lot. He used to
come in hospital as well. Used to read a lot more in hospital, but I don‘t
seem to have time now, except for magazines - about half a dozen different
ones that I get - but I might get round to books again if I get a bit more
organised. But if I‘m driving round a bit more, that will take a while to
get ready. I can‘t put a coat on on my own, which is a problem, so I need
help with that, unless there‘s somebody here to help. I can‘t rely on my
sister for everything like that; she‘s got her own house to run.
I suppose you have always been
used to looking after yourself, with diabetes.
Yes, well mother died in 1980,
so I‘ve lived on my own since then. And diabetes more or less means… she
attended to the diet, of course - I didn‘t have to cook then. I mean, the
right things were produced for diet.
After she died, did you feel
vulnerable having diabetes and living on your own, in case something should
Well, always a bit wary about,
you know, having a hypo and not... a bad one when I would need outside attention,
but touchwood I never have done; you know, I‘ve cured it on my own bat. And
I know when it‘s coming on and take immediate steps - don‘t try and override
it. I have sugar pots and things - sweet things - all round the house in
all likely positions where I might be - you know, in the lounge, the dining
room, the bedroom, the kitchen and bathroom. Always got sweet stuff available.
What keeps you going now?
Hoping for better walking, which
hasn‘t happened so far – in fact, I think it‘s getting worse. But just hoping
that I keep my mental abilities, and can drive again when I get the new car.
Get out a bit, and take myself to appointments and bits of local shopping,
which is quite good in Bollington, because you can usually park outside where
you want to go.
Do you think your life would
have been much different if you hadn‘t had diabetes?
I don‘t think so, really. I
don‘t know - I‘ve always known life with it. It‘s always been there and had
to take note of it, but it hasn‘t stopped me doing things; you know, musical
activities, choirs and musicals and going to concerts, travelling - at home
and abroad - and driving, and shopping. Tend not to go out to, you know,
pubs and that sort of atmosphere, which are, you know, not good. Drink‘s
not good anyway for diabetics, and I don‘t like that sort of atmosphere.
I‘d rather have a few people coming in for an evening and sitting round and
talking, having coffee; keep it simple.
Would you have any advice, from
your seventy three years of diabetes, to somebody who was diagnosed with diabetes
Well, it‘s difficult to advise,
because I‘ve never really conformed. But I think to keep it in mind always,
but, you know, be a bit flexible with it also, you know, as far as insulin
goes and altering your routines or taking exercise or not taking it. Exercise
is important - keep active, but adjust the food or the insulin to cope with
That sounds like very modern
advice, but have you always thought like that?
Well, it‘s the way I was trained,
actually, you know, even in the Argentine, many years ago - adapt it to present
conditions. But when they come out now with the, what it, DAFNE - Dose Adjustment
For Normal Eating - it makes me laugh, because it‘s what I‘ve been doing for
the last sixty years, more or less; always adapted to the conditions. It
hasn‘t got to be as rigid as, you know, fixed dose of insulin, meals at regimented
times and don‘t vary it. I mean, you can‘t go out or have a meal out or,
you know, adapt to different conditions. I mean, if you take part in the
activities… personally operatic shows, you‘ve got to have your meal and be
injected and ready for performing and dressed - you can‘t carry on with a
normal routine. And perhaps a lot of activity on stage maybe - got to adapt
it and not be afraid of altering it.
I must say that to keep a hobby going is very good advice, you know, over
the years; keep the interest going. And personally, I‘ve always painted -
even in the Argentine. My mother painted, and she helped quite a bit, but
I‘ve not studied art. But I went on a painting holiday, and the tutor said,
you know, "where did you train?" sort of thing, and I said "no,
I‘ve just picked it up, copy work", and he said "oh, people give
their ears for that talent, why don‘t you do some original works?".
From them on, I have done that. And since then, I‘ve done about a thousand
six hundred paintings - original paintings, and sold most of them, apart from
about a hundred that I‘ve still got with me at the moment, when I gave up
having exhibitions; too much hassle, too expensive and I was losing my public.
But it‘s always been a great interest. Always water colour, and painting
holidays have been quite useful and interesting. That, together with the
music and the house conversion interests, gardening… It‘s amazing, now, when
you think of my present garden, that huge trees have been planted by my sister
in the middle of the field - a big white cherry and a copper beech tree, which
is probably about forty foot high - to see them come to maturity. And the
orchard, which was six foot high in nettles, which has all been dug over and
roots taken out, and changes made to the house. It was far too big when it
was all converted, so it was divided; that was a major job. So, we had six
bedrooms at one time, so… I‘ve only got four now. But other conversions of
the house have been very interesting - you know, extra bathroom downstairs,
using an old coal barn where the floor had fallen in. Made the upper storey
into a new studio, connecting up the second bedroom to the landing, which
there was no connection in the first place. You had to go through another
bedroom or a separate staircase to get to it. Even this year, I had a new
porch added to the front of the house. Sort of a… not exactly a porch, but
somewhere to sit. It‘s the sunniest position in the whole house, so somewhere
interesting to see the horses in the field and the walkers go by and people
walking their dogs, and, you know, a bit of life going on.